2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Texans vs. Ravens

In what turned out to be a battle of strength on strength, the Ravens outlasted the Texans in Sunday’s Divisional round playoffs. Here are some quick-hit reactions from Baltimore’s 20-13 victory.

Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice runs against the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on January 15, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

– If it weren’t for the final score, you would have thought Houston dominated this game. The Texans absolutely owned the trenches, which was never more apparent then when they stuffed Ray Rice on a fourth-and-goal attempt from the 1-yard line during the fourth quarter. Rice looked like he ran full force into a brick wall on that play, and never got going throughout the day as he was held to just 60 yards on 21 carries. Even though Houston’s season is over, the job Wade Phillips did re-shaping the defense cannot be overstated. His defensive unit kept the Texans in the game throughout the entire second half.

– One thing that will be overlooked because of the final score is the job Jonathan Joesph did on Torrey Smith. The Houston corner completely took Smith out of the game, which limited what Baltimore could do in the vertical passing game. Because of this, Joe Flacco was sacked five times and largely settled for short passes aside from one 30-yard completion to Lee Evans. Granted, Evans and Anquan Boldin still combined for 103 receiving yards and a touchdown, but the Ravens’ offense wasn’t very effective as a whole. It’s ironic to think that Houston desperately wanted Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason and then “settled” for Joseph, who wound up having the much better season.

– How can you not love Arian Foster? I thought Baltimore would shut him down and all he did was man up to the tune of 132 yards on 27 carries. He essentially put the Texans’ offense on his back and said, “Follow me.” He ran with purpose, determination, and a hell of a lot of heart. I wasn’t excited to get another helping of T.J. Yates in this year’s playoffs but I could watch Foster run every day. Houston needs to pay the man this offseason. (He’s an impending restricted free agent.)

– My comment about T.J. Yates in the paragraph above wasn’t intended to be a knock on the rookie, who has done an incredible job for the Texans given the circumstances. It’s just painfully obvious that Houston’s offense is limited with him under center and as a football fan I would rather see Baltimore have a crack at New England than a Yates-led Texans team. (Sorry, Houston.) That said, Yates did lead a couple of impressive drives today, but the Ravens were always there when he made mistakes. Like most rookie quarterbacks, Yates has a habit of locking onto receivers and at this level, you’re going to be in trouble when you telegraph passes. (Look at Yates’ pass attempt that Ed Reed intercepted to essentially seal the win for Baltimore.) Still, it was quite the season for the youngster out of North Carolina, who has already blossomed into a solid backup for Houston.

– X-rays came back negative on Ed Reed’s ankle, which is obviously huge for Baltimore’s defense. The injury, which Reed suffered on Houston’s final offensive play, looked serious when it first happened. But it looks like the Ravens will have their All-Pro safety next week for Tom Brady and Co.

Ravens-Patriots next week at Foxboro? Sign me the f#&k up. When you consider the matchup problems that Baltimore’s defense gives New England, it’s going to be a great game.

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2009 AFC North Champion…Bengals?

With their impressive 17-7 win over the Ravens on Sunday, the Bengals have set themselves up to win the AFC North.

Yeah, yeah I know – the Steelers have yet to play this week and they could have an identical record as Cincinnati if they win Monday night in Denver. They also host the Bengals next week.

But don’t forget that Cincy has already beaten Pittsburgh once this year and the Steelers will be coming off a short week of rest after playing what should be a very physical game against the Broncos. Plus, after playing in Pittsburgh next week, the Bengals take on well-known powerhouses in the Raiders, Browns and Lions, and also have the Chiefs in Week 16. If they can beat the Steelers next week, they’re set up for an 11 or 12-win season.

The Bengals owe most of their success to Cedric Benson and an underrated defense. Benson rushed 34 times for 117 yards and a touchdown in the win over Baltimore and is now on pace for 1,674 yards and 12 scores. He has really found himself in Cincinnati after stealing paychecks in Chicago.

The defense has been exceptional as well. To hold a potent Baltimore offense to only seven points is quite an accomplishment and the job Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall did on the Ravens’ receivers was outstanding. Joe Flacco had no one to throw to because his receivers couldn’t get open and he wound up throwing two interceptions. All in all, it was an impressive performance by a Bengals team that has its sights on a division title.

On the other side, this was a punch to the gut for the Ravens, who thought they had ironed out some issues with their win over the Broncos last Sunday. But they ran into a well-rested, well-prepared Cincinnati team that clearly has their number this season.

Bengals’ secondary improving, but safety is still an issue

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at how the Cincinnati Bengals have re-built their secondary through the draft, although the safety position still looks like a potential weakness.

It’s no secret the strength of the Cincinnati Bengals resides on offense. With Carson Palmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson running the show offensively, the Bengals haven’t had an issue lighting up the scoreboard over the past three seasons. It’s keeping opponents from light up the scoreboard that’s been the problem in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have made a collective effort to improve their defense in the past three drafts, using their last three first round picks on that side of the ball. In 2006, Cincy selected South Carolina corner Jonathan Joseph with their first round pick and in 2007 the Bengals took another defensive back with their first pick in Michigan’s Leon Hall. This past draft, the team tabbed USC outside linebacker Keith Rivers in the first round.

But back to the secondary.

Outside of being suspended one game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in October, Joseph took considerable steps in his development in only his second year. After recording 58 tackles and no interceptions as a rookie in 2006, Joseph totaled 62 stops and four picks last year.

Hall proved many draft pundits wrong after snagging five interceptions, a forced fumble and 69 tackles as a rookie last season. Several so-called experts made claims that Hall was overrated and would get exposed by NFL receivers, but he more than held his own and was one of the best first round picks in 2007.

While Joseph and Hall are developing into a nice tandem at corerback, the Bengals’ safety position is a weakness. The team lost veteran safety Madieu Williams to free agency in the offseason and while he under performed last year, he was still a productive player and a solid starter. Set to replace Williams is Marvin White, a 2007 fourth round pick who lacks experience and top end speed. But he made plenty of plays collegially at TCU and the team hopes that playmaking ability will transfer to the NFL.

Youngster Chinedum Ndukwe was giving veteran Dexter Jackson all he could handle for the Bengals’ starter at strong safety, but a knee injury has sidelined Ndukwe and it appears Jackson’s job is safe for now. While Jackson has starting experience, he’s limited in coverage, which could spell trouble with White still trying to learn the free safety position.

Depending on how the safeties perform this year, the Bengals could have one of the better young defensive backfields in the league. But another potential issue is that the front seven isn’t expected to produce much of a pass rush. And it won’t matter how good this young secondary is if the quarterback has all day to throw.

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